Governor Schwarzenegger on Thursday unveiled his budget proposal for the next fiscal year. It calls for a staggering $9 billion in cuts to state services to offset a multi-billion dollar shortfall in revenue. KPCC's State Capitol reporter Julie Small says the reaction to Schwarzenegger's spending plan was grim.
Julie Small: Inside the heated auditorium of the Health and Human Services building, Governor Schwarzenegger looked tan and fit as he proposed 10% cuts to most government programs. He acknowledged that kind of gouge hurts every area of state services, and everyone who relies on them.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger: Some might say that it sounds easy to just cut across the board by 10%, but let me tell you, it is very difficult. I can see every single person hurt by those cuts. And I understand how difficult they will be for many, many people. But the old way of balancing the budget, which is grabbing money anywhere we can, if it is from transportation, or from local government, the pension plans, that time is over.
Protesters: Arnold, we declare, you pass a budget that's fair. Arnold, we declare, you pass a budget that's fair.
Small: At the Capitol Park across the street from the Governor's news conference stood a group of mothers and their children. Bundled in coats and hats, they wanted the Governor to see the families his proposed cuts will hurt.
Mary Ignacius: See, we were outside, so we don't really have all– we're getting phone calls about what actually happened inside.
Small: That's Mary Ignacius with "Parent Voices." She heard the Governor plans to cut unemployment payments for families on welfare.
Ignacius: If the family's not working, that's the only source of income that they have. And so that, you know, that's really to pay for food. That's really to put towards rent. This isn't for luxuries. This is for basic human needs. And to take that away as a way to balance a California state budget is cruel.
Small: Ignacius hadn't heard the Governor felt Californians' pain.
Ignacius: Feeling pain is one thing, but knowing pain is another, and these families know this pain. I mean, California's in a fiscal emergency, but these families have been in fiscal emergencies for years.
Small: Democrats felt equally bitter about the cuts the Governor's proposing. Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez said slicing away at healthcare, welfare, and education doesn't represent Golden State values.
Fabian Nunez: One thing I can say about his budget. He really did not discriminate. He cut all the programs that people care about. This budget isn't going for an up or down vote today. Clearly, if it's passed as it is written, it would cause tremendous, permanent pain to the people of California.
Small: Nunez gave the Governor some credit for cutting just $400 million from school funding this year. But next year, Schwarzenegger wants lawmakers to suspend the Prop. 98 funding guarantees for education. That would save $4 billion. Educators say it would also be:
Sue Westbrook: Oh, horrible. I mean, we don't have enough money as it is.
Small: Sue Westbrook is with the California Federation of Teachers.
Westbrook: Prop. 98 is supposed to be the floor, not the ceiling. And you take the floor out, we all fall. (laughs) There's no way that we can do the job that we want to do on the cheap.
Small: Republicans say doing things on the cheap is the only the way out of California's fiscal hole. Roger Niello, the vice-chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, called the Governor "brave" for cutting programs across the board. But Niello says it'll be tough to get Democrats to see it that way.
Assemblyman Roger Niello: It's going to be an ugly year unfortunately, but the approaches of the past aren't working. We're not going to be able to cram into the glass slipper of the past, the see-through gimmickry that we've tried in the past. We are beyond accounting maneuvers. We're beyond additional borrowing. We've got to make tough decisions.
Small: Like releasing 20,000 nonviolent inmates from prison early, and placing another 10,000 on minimum parole. That'll save a few million. Then there's the plan to close 48 state parks, including popular spots like Will Rogers. Senate leader Don Perata wondered why not keep the parks open, and charge more to use 'em? Political pundits say Schwarzenegger might be proposing cuts so severe that Californians will beg for higher taxes and fees. A reporter challenged Schwarzenegger to be like former President Bush, and swear, "Read my lips, no new taxes."
Schwarzenegger: Well, I never try to copy someone else's lines. [crowd laughs] You would never hear me say "Make my day." [crowd laughs] I say, "I'll be back." But not "Make my day." I have made it very clear that we cannot tax our way out of this problem.
Small: Those laughs were just about the only levity in Sacramento the whole day.